A study conducted by the University of Southern Denmark in 2016 revealed interesting information about athletes’ muscles at the cellular level. Endurance athletes showed a change in mitochondria. Athletes who participate in soccer or skiing demonstrate that muscle quality could be better compare to mass quantity. Larger muscles do not equate to a better athlete. The mitochondria provide energy to the cell and allow people to engage in long periods of exercise . Exercise physiology has reached the conclusion that the more endurance exercise done the more mitochondria increase in the muscles. This may explain why endurance athletes have more compared to non-athletes. Muscle fatigue happens after physical activity. The study also shows that endurance is not only determined by the number of mitochondria, but their structure. Such a discovery can contribute to making more efficient training programs and possible medical applications.
The study conducted by the Swedish and Danish team found that the mitochondria of athletes was structured to generate more energy. The human body seems to adjust to various demands depending on a particular stimuli. It was stated by Joachim Nielsen professor of muscle physiology : ” our measurements have shown us that these mitochondria can generate around 25% more energy.” This provides an advantage to marathon runners, cross country skiers, and soccer players.
The involved comparing non-athletes to athletes. A muscle biopsy was then conducted. Biopsy is a procedure in which tissue is removed from the body for examination, normally for the purpose of detecting a disease. The sample size included 15 elite athletes and 29 non-athletes. While it would help that the sample size was bigger, there was no indication of sex distribution. Women are now serious athletes, however many times the biological and physiological differences are not accounted for in training and exercise physiology studies. This still should hold the same for women, seeing as there is no difference in mitochondria between the sexes. The muscles tissue between the sexes do not differ either. Muscle cells are the same between the sexes, the only difference is in the amount and particular fiber type. Men have more type II muscle fibers compared to women having more type I.
Women can build muscle. Sex should not have an effect on the outcome if this study was only done with female athletes. When the muscle tissues was viewed through a microscope, changes could be observed.
Research indicates that such an endurance advantage may not be inherited. There is no substantial evidence to suggest that a mitochondrial athletic advantage can be passed through generations. There could be an indication that longer periods of exercise could change the mitochondrial structure for the extended term. According to Joachim Nielsen : “we took detailed measurements of each muscle fibre and saw that those muscle fibres that are typically most active during extended periods of physical activity are also those with the most significant changes in mitochondrial structure. ” This may also suggest that these changes may be more so epigenetic changes. The DNA sequence would not be altered like that of a mutation. Athletes are changing themselves through training. The only way to know for sure is to observe how their offspring would be like.
It seems the cellular function in relation to sports performance is more complex than previously imagined. Training will certainly become more sophisticated and scientifically based in the coming decades. Many times training took a more trial and error approach to methods. Pure science mainly focused on observation, which in many regards athletes used that system in their training methods. There now seems to be a framework to follow based on a scientific method.Long term exercise may induce some form of permanent change at the cellular level if done for decades. If this was to be made it into an experiment it would be difficult to test for. If mitochondrial advantage is inherited it is probably a combination of genes. The misconception is that it is one gene responsible for various traits. The function and actions of gene expression operate more intricately. Then environment can also influence how such genes are expressed. An athlete may have genetic advantage , but a poor training method could hinder their full potential.
This would require a longer study of athletes to see if there was a genuine genetic athletic connection. Science is far away from engineering a superhuman athlete, but it appears to be getting closer.
Such studies also offer other applications in biomedical fields. There are diseases that harm mitochondria which can result in impaired muscular and metabolic function. This may also hold the key to improving the lives of people with metabolic disorders. There are a number of mitochondrial diseases that people can have. Normally such diseases are genetically inherited. Not all mitochondrial disease is inherited. Some can be classified as chronic. Other disease can induce mitochondrial dysfunction. Severe mitochondrial disease has particular symptoms. This could include muscle weakness, exercise intolerance, poor growth, Respiratory problems, Thyroid problems, Nervous system or brain disorders, heart, liver, and kidney health issues. The symptons depend on the cells effected. Mitochondria is very important to human health and the body. If disease can be understood at a cellular level, the possibility of cures become that much greater. Rather than just having medical treatments, particular mitochondrial issues can be eliminated through genetic engineering.
Research has suggested that major diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, forms of cancer, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and various autoimmune diseases have a link to damage of the mitochondria. If Mitochondria fails to produce energy, this will have deleterious effects on human health. The lack of critical energy harms metabolic function. This may explain the cause of obesity or diabetes in some individuals. It has been theorized that exercise can protect the mitochondria. Free radicals if produced in a large number can create oxidative stress. The mitochondria have antioxidants, which focus on reducing damage to the cells. It is possible that antioxidants decline as a person ages. Having a diet in which the require minerals and vitamins could improve cell health.
If this is scientific fact, then there could be a means of reversing the aging process by means of manipulating the mitochondria. If immortality was to be achieved this would generate much bioethical controversy. The secret of life is hidden in the genetics and organelles of cells. Cells and organelles can also reveal much about the history of human evolution. People inherit their mitochondrial DNA from their mother. This is why biologists and paleoantropologists are able to trace human evolution millions of year ago. The body is like a puzzle and each part fits somewhere. Mitochondrial function may be the holy grail of biomedical advancement.
The only way to fully grasp the significance of the study is to have an understanding of mitochondria’s structure and function. The mitochondrion has an inner membrane folded shaped like shelves with incomplete partitions. This allows for an increased surface area so that fats and sugars can be released. The outer membrane of a mitochondrion is smooth with limited features. Mitochondria can be found in most eukaryotic cells. The Mitochondria must generate energy in the form of adensosine triphosphate. The number of mitochondria vary depending on the type of cell. Muscle and liver cells can have to thousands of mitochondria. Red blood cells do not have mitochondria. The outer mitochondrial membrane is permeable to transport small molecules with particular channels for moving large molecules. The inner membrane is less permeable only allowing small molecules to enter the matrix. The matrix has the DNA of the mitochondrial genome and enzymes associated with the tricarboxylic cycle. This will then metabolize nutrients into by product for the purpose of energy production. The conversion happens in the inner membrane. Cristae house the protein components. The electron transport chain induces a series oxidation reduction reactions which move electrons from one protein to the next. The free energy produced enables the phosphorylation of adenosine diphosphate to ATP. The final result is the powering of cells through chemiosmotic coupling of oxidative phosphorylation, which allows for the fueling of various cellular activities. This also include the generation of muscular movement. Mitochondria and its properties may hold a key to more efficient athletic training.